10/20/2005 12:43:05 AM
What is an independent clause?
The independent clause is probably our most basic set up for understanding in speech or writing. It is a very simple formula: Subject + verb + punctuation.
They are helping.
We will run.
Go, dog, go!
I think you get the picture here.
There are occasions, especially in dialogue, where the subject is implied. You’ll see this especially if someone is giving commands. There the implied subject would be “you“. In first-person dialogue or thoughts, the implied subject would be “I“.
“Stop! Drop! Roll!”
Getting hungry. (this is thought, which I usually italicize)
You will notice that I didn’t call this a sentence.
Because while a sentence can be a simple subject + verb + punctuation, there can be a lot more to it than that.
What it is not.
An independent clause is not a phrase. It must have the two components of a subject and a verb.
the wind against my wings (This has no verb, so it’s not an independent clause. It’s a phrase.)
assuming the worst (This has no subject, so it’s not an independent clause. It’s a phrase. It also needs a helping verb to go with that particular verb tense; more about that later.)
The trick is to know what’s what. Many writers have phrases just hanging around in their paragraphs, not realizing that they aren’t independent clauses.
Now, let’s talk a little about punctuation. An independent clause is usually followed by a full stop. That means a period, question mark, or exclamation point. It can be followed by a comma only as part of dialogue structure or if a dependent clause is following it.
“He left,” she said. (dialogue)
We went to town, but we didn’t buy anything. (followed by a dependent clause. More on those later.)
On occasion, two independent clauses may be connected by a semi-colon.
He shined his shoes to a mirror gloss; it was a matter of pride with him. (two ICs connected by a semi-colon)
NEVER string together independent clauses with commas. It might sound right to your ear, but this is a BIG grammatical mistake.
We went to town, we didn’t buy anything, we came back late.
Now, we’ve got the basic building blocks: nouns, pronouns, and verbs. We’ve got the basic unit of understanding: the independent clause. Next we’ll look at two more items that increase our understanding: the direct object, and the indirect object.